You have experienced it. I have experienced it…
You are in a worship service – you want to participate, but the song is pitched in a key that is either too high or too low (not that this happens often) for the congregation to be a part of the musical part of the worship service in any meaningful way.
Here are some guidelines that will help in selecting songs for corporate worship. This will help move the worship time to a place where everyone can be a participant.
1. Just because you hear a song on the radio or your favorite artist mp3 doesn’t mean it’s should be used in a worship service.
Some songs you hear on the radio work best as “concert only” songs. Before your hands move to the “comment” section, please hear me out. That doesn’t mean that these songs are not Scriptural, but that it may not be the best choice for a worship service.
Consider these things: what is the major message in the song? Does it put the focus on God? Is it encouraging to the individual of the church community? (I know that some churches use secular songs in worship and do so with major input with the Pastor, usually to underscore a theme or central message. That is another discussion.)
2. Songs that you hear on the radio or a recording are almost ALWAYS in the wrong key for your congregation.
Recording/concert artists don’t have to worry about keys for songs, but worship leaders do! There are plenty of resources (www.lifewayworship.com; www.praisecharts.com) that are able to print songs in multiple keys.
If the average singer can’t sing along with the songs you select, they soon become spectators instead of participants.
Myth buster: I was heard that a worship leader was told by his “mentor” that songs music be done in the “original artist’s key” in order for the song to be “authentic” for the congregation. Not true! Keep it in a key where everyone can participate.
3. Consider the musical ability of your band, praise team, choir, orchestra.
Nothing is more frustrating to your group than arrangements that are beyond their musical abilities. Sure, you want to challenge them and move them musically forward, but this is done in baby steps. Again, look for arrangements from different publishers and resources that fit the skill level and ability of your group. Your groups will sound better and play with more confidence.
4. Watch out for long musical intros and musical interludes.
Do whatever works best in your situation. If you find it awkward to have a 8 or 16 bar introduction or interlude in a song, then leave it out. Usually, these can be easily cut in half or modified in some manner that still keeps the feel of the song.
Typically there are multiple versions of many songs that are “live” or “radio” versions that the arranger is referencing. Some arrangements are arranged from the “live event” version that may have a lot of interludes or other material that is not needed for every arrangement of the song. If it works well, use it, but do the song in a way that works for you.
Look around – chances are there are arrangements that are designed to fit your exact needs.
5. Does the song have a story that will help your congregation connect with the song? Tell the story.
We all love a story and this is especially true in the church where we love to hear how God is at work. The stories and backgrounds of many songs are rich and make the song even more meaningful and relevant. This is true of many hymns (Think of “It Is Well with My Soul) as well as more modern songs.
Tell the story to the choir/praise team. Tell the story to the congregation. Tell the story to your pastor. If it works with the pastor’s message he could reference it in the message or utilize the song or story in another way.
Connect, connect, connect – people, story, the Good News.
6. Consider what songs your congregation and your pastor love.
Yes, yes – I know it’s primarily your responsibility to select the songs for worship. What does your choir like to sing? I promise they will sing “their song” with joy and passion. One of the greats (Dr. Angell) said: “people love the familiar.” We need to sing a “new song” but also sing songs your congregation loves as well.
When I’m serving in a church I always try to find out what the pastor’s favorite song or style is. I may not do that song every Sunday, but I promise I do it occasionally. I want the musical worship to be an inspiration and encouragement to my pastor, so I want to know what his favorites are. By the way, I love it when a pastor asks for a certain song to be sung in worship. (I love it even more when I have enough time to rehearse it, but no matter what I still have my group ready to sing it.)